Fried Corn Redux | Civil Eats

Fried Corn Redux

I had an interesting “discussion” with an editor who had requested an essay with a recipe from me for one of their holiday issues. The magazine wanted me to focus on one of my family’s favorite holiday dishes—something that had a real significance for me. I sent my top dish list over—candied yams, macaroni and cheese, homemade potato salad and fried corn. I would have added corn bread dressing, but I just can’t make it like my grandmother did.

A few days later I got a call back. Somebody was doing a story on a potato dish, which killed potato salad and sweet potatoes. So that left fried corn. The problem was nobody there had ever heard of fried corn. They wanted to know if the kernels were battered and fried like popcorn shrimp. I explained that it was a Southern dish, sometimes called corn maque choux in Louisiana. “Okay,” she said, and I went off to write my story.

Two hours later, the young editor called back. “We had a meeting, and we don’t think it’s authentic,” she said tentatively. It was almost a question. And I was almost left speechless. I waited for her to elaborate. Finally she said, “We think people only eat corn in the summer on the cob, when it is in season. How can you have it at Thanksgiving?”

I was irritated. Tell me you’ve never had it. Tell me that you only eat corn on the cob in August. Tell me you really want to know more. But don’t tell me that it isn’t authentic. This is the point where I would have cut bait, and gone on to another article for another magazine, but this article was giving me the opportunity to write about my family, and honor black Americans and the way they eat—something that rarely happens in national magazines. I took a deep breath and explained that fried corn was a dish that, like many others, came from the South, where the “season” is longer. When black people migrated to the North for better opportunities, they took their recipes with them, even though “in season” meant that you had to improvise, if you wanted to eat what you loved all year long.

I can remember my grandparents buying huge quantities of corn in season at the farmer’s market, where we would spend the afternoon shucking it. Then my grandmother would get a big roasting pan and carefully cut the corn off the cob, twice. The first pass hit the middle of the kernels. The second pass also released the “milk.” That night we would have a big cast iron skillet full of the corn with some sweet onions and peppers. The summertime meant that you could have some big fresh juicy garden tomatoes on top, sliced as thin or thick as you wanted. The rest was put away in the freezer, for special cool weather Sunday dinners, Thanksgiving and Christmas. When you live in the Midwest, you have to improvise.

So, I explained this to the editor. She paused and said, “I just don’t know.” At that moment, I threw down the gauntlet. “You asked me for a dish that was treasured in my African American family, no?” She said yes. “Okay, this is it. An authentic recipe from an authentic black woman.” I was like a puppy with a chew toy. “Did you ask the Mexican writer about the authenticity of her mole? Or the Chinese writer about her dish?” She said in a remorseful whisper, “I haven’t called them yet. But I have to call them, too.”

When we talk about the culture and history of food, including the way that we celebrate it, we must honor what each group brings to the table. We are as American as apple pie, pot stickers, enchiladas, candied yams and fried corn. America isn’t called a melting pot for nothing.

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Recipe: Comer Family Fried Corn

Makes 10 Servings

Ingredients:

Two dozen ears of fresh corn cut off the cob
Four strips of bacon cut up
One cup of chopped sweet onions
One half cup of green bell peppers, diced
One medium jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced**
One half cup of heavy cream
One half teaspoon salt
One quarter teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
One teaspoon of sugar

Cut the corn of the cob in two steps, retain the “milk” that is released with the second cut. Place in a bowl with the cream. Fry the cut up bacon strips in a Dutch oven or heavy skillet, until crisp. Add the chopped onions, bell peppers, jalapenos and sauté until translucent. Slowly add in the corn and cream mixture. Add salt, pepper and sugar. Stir to make sure the corn and vegetables are mixed. Let simmer for about 25-30 minutes with the pan covered, periodically removing the lid to stir.

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**The jalapenos were not in my family’s original recipe, but I added it once I had in New Orleans. It adds that extra little kick that keeps people guessing.

Photos by kthread, Dey and romanlily

Andrea King Collier is a freelance writer, a Knight Digital Media Fellow, and former W.K. Kellogg/IATP Food and Society Policy Fellow. Read more >

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  1. That second pass is so important for the corn milk. I'm going to make this now and again at Thanksgiving (so happy to see my picture near this recipe!) Thanks--
  2. Julie
    That editorial staff is clueless. I've had fried corn, and I'm not African American.

    They should come to our Thanksgiving table. We not only have corn on the cob, but shoepeg corn and creamed corn, too. In addition to any corn casseroles others bring. You just freeze it when it is in season.

    Sheesh.
  3. I am boiling over with anger at the stupidity of the editor and everyone in her "meeting," and at the same time salivating over the idea of fried corn. A beautiful piece of writing, skillfully told.
  4. Jackie Dishner
    Andrea,

    I can't imagine anyone questioning YOUR authenticity. I can hear it in this essay; I can't imagine it wasn't in the other one.

    By the way, I'm a white girl, originally from the midwest where corn is a staple, and I love it--I love it on the cob. I love carving it off the cob, and adding those fresh tomatoes you mentioned above. I love it fried on the grill. I don't care for it so much when it's creamed-style. But that's just me. More important to the point of your story, however, I love it all year long.

    Thanks for sharing your family recipe; the colors remind me of autumn.

    Jackie
  5. Sheila
    You're a hero! It sounds so delish. People are such dopes sometimes.\Sheila
  6. I'm so glad you held your ground - and can't wait to try this! Thanks for sharing!
  7. Wow. How could anyone question the authenticity? I'd never heard of fried corn, but when I Googled the term I came up with 364,000 hits. Took me two seconds.

    You've managed to write an amazing post. If your recipe is half as good as your writing, this dish will be a hit.
  8. Diana Burrell
    "We had a meeting, and we don't think it's authentic."

    I'm sorry, but a mouthful of coffee nearly hit my computer screen when I read that.

    Beautiful essay, Andrea. I recall my WASPy great aunt making some kind of creamy corn dish with chopped pimentos at every Thanksgiving. In season? No, but it was certainly authentic in our family.
  9. Lorraine
    Andrea,
    Thanks for taking time to share the recipe with us. Knowing you, the little editor doesn't realize how close she came to having her head shucked off. It's one of those, "slowly I turn moments."
    With over forty years practicing in the field of culture, I have witnessed the word "authenticity" tossed around like stale croutons in a wilting salad. Many times it's very very valid and other times it is bantered about as a code word, a word appropriated by ignorant people who see themselves otherwise. It is assumed you'll get the "message" ... without your pushing back to question what they are really trying to say. So, when challenged to elaborate, they stammer and choke. Not pretty.
    Thanks. This Latina is going to try your recipe.
  10. thanks for holding ground for us all, sister! your experience says so much about the experiences of dispossession that people of color experience across racial lines, as the editor said she had to call the mexican and chinese writers, too. you also express the need to break the color line that makes both print media and book publishing among the most segregated areas in american corporate life.

    amazing how someone would doubt - would question - the very food that has sustained us across the generations. so cocky.
  11. I've created a link to this post in the "Recipes" section of our newest "Cast Iron Around the Web" entry at http://www.cookingincastiron.com
  12. ladysheila
    If you had to live with one food the rest of your life, THIS would be it. Your frustration with said editor is well understood. My family also had this throughout the year (and of course, at Thanksgiving). My aunt who made this so wonderfully died before I could watch every detail about her making it, but, it was always made from fresh corn, butter or bacon grease, salt and pepper (and just enough water to cover). She also cut corn in several slices careful to not get any fodder (inedible part)and skimming the backside of a knife down the cob to get every bit of the "milk". I don't think she added milk but it would be great. Now, if our family recipe was good enough for the whole community to talk about it, then imagine how good this one would be with the addition of the peppers and onions! Thank you for the recipe I have been looking for!
  13. Eddie Robertson
    Comments and recipe very interesting as I had never tried fried corn. Here is what i did. I had some Sole (fish)for my lunch. To a heavy skillet add about 2 pats butter and heat till butter is melted. Add 4 fillets of Sole cover with about 1/2 cup of frozen corn and cover skillet. In separate bowl chop 1 slice of purple onion and chop 1/2 fresh tomato. Turn fish and corn with spatula and recover skillet. cook another five minutes on low heat. combine with onions and tomatoes. Smother with Blue Cheese Salad Dressing. Serves one old nothwestern batchelor. Yum!
  14. Mmmm...fried corn. I never had this until I married a Cajun, and I hope I never have to go without it again. When all the natural sugars in the corn and cream caramelize? Talk about GOOD!

    You are, of course, absolutely right about the longer growing seasons here in the South. As I write in the middle of January, I have fresh mirliton/chayote fruiting in the back yard, abundant greens (turnip, mustard, chard, collards), herbs to the eyeballs, buckets of fresh satsumas and lemons, and the most beautiful sweet potatoes I've ever tasted. Summertime's too damned hot for most things to survive here in New Orleans, so our corn is actually sweet and bountiful not too far before the winter holidays.

    Poo-Poo to your narrowly-focused editors. In addition to the obvious/inherent bigotry, however mild-mannered, that they displayed along lines of color and ethnicity, they also showed a total lack of concern for the whole swath of food, farmland, and hungry/cooking folks below the Mason-Dixon line. Just because the federal government doesn't acknowledge the South as part of the U.S. (neither with money nor respect), a bunch of editors who, presumably, read outside their own limited perspectives, don't have any reason to adopt those policies.

    Don't let that shortsightedness make you miss out on Southern food, whether or not you understand its "authenticity," cause, damn! That's missin a LOT!

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